Today is my son’s 10th birthday. And this is my gift to him: A message to the universe about why it’s better for having him in it. And not by a little.
Seven years one month and 19 days ago, my son Aidan, my second of three boys, was diagnosed with autism. I got the news from my wife by phone while I sat in one of Saddam Hussein’s abandoned guard houses on the banks of the Euphrates River in Iraq. If you follow any of my writing, that’s an old story. But it’s worth saying out loud from time to time. Because it’s important to stop, take a breath and turn around to look at the footprints behind you and remember just what you’ve walked over and through to get where you are.
People don’t ask me what it’s like to have a child on the autism spectrum. Just like people rarely ask someone what it’s like to have lost a child. It sounds like a bit of an extreme comparison to some of you I’m sure. But if I showed you a video of Aidan at two, talking, smiling,interacting, and then I showed you him at three, you would understand. Because he was gone. Most of the last seven years have been a journey to find him again. I wish we could tell you that we found that little talkative, smiley two year old. We haven’t. He’s not gone any more. But he’s different. We’ve long since come to terms with it. While we were looking though, I found a few things along the way. And I think they’re worth sharing. So here they are. I hope they help.
Something happens when you realize that the burden of resources that your family requires to get through the day increases near exponentially overnight. It makes you look at your career differently. Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Find something you’d do for free and find a way to do it. That’s the type of sage career advice you find out there in TED talks and on Linked In. Here’s what I use to guide me now. Do what your family needs you to do to support them. Nothing else matters. And once you get there, you’ll find how much of the job dissatisfaction crap that we’re fed today is an unnecessary luxury that gets in the way of doing what you agreed to do when you decided to be an adult and support others. It’s an unconquerable realization.
Every once in a while, I’ll run into someone from the old days that I served with. Someone I’d been through hell and back with and lived to laugh about it over beers. No matter where I am, it always brings me a unique kind of affection. Simply seeing them puts a smile on my face that can only be explained by the fondness that replaced the fear and dread we both once lived through together. I’m married to that now. I’ve always loved my wife. That’s why I married her. But we’ve been to war together now. And back. And what comes with that is a deep friendship and loyalty that wasn’t always there. Raising a child with autism will be the violent reaction that blows you apart or binds you together at a molecular level. We found the latter. And no one can or ever will come between that.
Two thousand years ago a man taught the world a way to live. He taught that there was more to us than this life. And he taught that love and generosity towards every and all was required. And he taught that being grateful for all of it was the only way. And every day of my life and what it takes to get through it is testament to the truth and power in his words. And to me, they are proof that there is a God. And that he loves me very much.
Once you stabilize the ship in the storm, it’s time to get the engines back up and go searching for others in need. I was never a cruel or unkind person. And I wasn’t particularly self serving. But I never once felt the burning need to help others until I felt what it was like to hit the bottom, bounce off it and start to climb out. If you’re reading this and you need help, go ahead and ask. This entire site is for you.
We never found that two year old we were looking for. Because the truth was, in hind sight, he was never really there. But who was, and who is, is a wonderful, loving, smart little boy full of life and effort. He tries harder to overcome worse problems by 9AM every day than most of us will ever face in a lifetime. And every morning, when I hear his little sing song happy noises from his room, and I know he’s up and ready to get after it again, I know that I’ve found him, my son, Aidan.
Today, he’s 10.